Is it possible for a film to be longer than its actual runtime? Laxmii sure feels like it is. Every time I paused the movie — which released directly on the streaming service Hotstar — I swear, there was always more time remaining than there was before.
Laxmii isn’t just boring, although it is painfully that. The more you watch, the more you realize how vapid it is. Plot elements and characters are plucked from a generic pool of comedy tropes and carelessly thrown together, with no attempt at continuity or resolution. Any social issues raised are examined with so little depth that the film offers no meaningful insight into them. One might forgive these flaws if Laxmii was funny, but it isn’t.
Akshay Kumar plays Asif, a debunker of superstitions. He stops a public demonstration against a suspected witch, exposing the fraudulent holy man conducting it. The woman on trial — who has a swollen lip and visible hand-prints on her face from a beating doled out by her husband — tells Asif, “You saved my marriage.” Ack. Laxmii is way, way too comfortable with violence against women, with this sequence being but one example of many.
Frequent violence against women also makes the film feel dated, as though it’s cobbled together from elements from movies from decades ago. Take Asif’s marriage to Rashmi (Kiara Advani). She’s introduced in one of the most tired ways: fretting that Asif forgot their wedding anniversary. Advani isn’t given much to work with in Laxmii, but her performance is not good. Neither is Kumar’s.
Asif and Rashmi are estranged from her family because her father Sachin (Rajesh Sharma) disapproves of Asif’s Muslim faith. Religious differences are irrelevant to the plot, but rather than write real conflict, writer-director Raghava Lawrence went with the default reason Bollywood movie parents disapprove of their child’s choice of spouse.
Let’s talk about Rashmi’s family. The logic that went into casting the actors makes no sense. The real age of the actor is in parentheses in the list below, followed by each actor’s role in Laxmii:
- Akshay Kumar (53 years) — Rashmi’s husband, Asif
- Ashwini Kalsekar (50 years) — Rashmi’s sister-in-law, Ashwini
- Manu Rishi Chadha (49 years, 10 months) — Rashmi’s brother, Deepak
- Rajesh Sharma (49 years, 1 month) — Rashmi’s father, Sachin
- Ayesha Raza Mishra (43 years) — Rashmi’s mother, Ratna
- Kiara Advani (28 years) — Rashmi
Somehow, Rashmi’s brother is played by an actor older than the actors playing his parents. Rashmi’s mother is younger than everyone except for Rashmi. And here’s the thing: everyone looks pretty much their real age (save for some “old lady” makeup for Rashmi’s mom). Besides the ick factor of Kumar romancing someone 25 years his junior, trying to pass Rishi Chadha off as young enough to be Sharma’s or Raza Mishra’s son is preposterous.
Asif and Rashmi head to her family’s house for her parents 25th wedding anniversary (*record scratch sound effect*) — hold on, Manu Rishi Chadha is supposed to be 24 years old or younger?!? Rarely does a review warrant calling out the casting director, but what the heck is going on here, Parag Mehta?
Strange things start happening when Asif ignores advice and gets some kids to play cricket on a vacant lot that everyone insists is haunted — because it is. [Side note: one of those kids is Asif’s orphaned nephew Shaan, who disappears in the second half of the movie and is never mentioned again.] When Asif brings his cricket stumps into the house covered in blood and human tissue that no one acknowledges as such, he brings the spirit of the dead person with him. The ghost terrorizes Ratna and Ashwini, who do lots and lots and lots of screaming that is supposed to be funny but isn’t. They aren’t able to exorcise the spirit before it takes possession of Asif.
The spirit is that of a transgender woman named Laxmii (Sharad Kelkar), who loves fashion and beauty treatments. Watching Akshay Kumar sashay and wear bangles is not the height of comedy that director Lawrence thinks it is. Nor does the fact that Asif is supposed to be possessed by a woman at the time make the image of Akshay Kumar striking Ashwini Kalsekar any less troubling.
Flashbacks show how Laxmii met her untimely fate and explain why her spirit has been unable to move on. We also see her give a touching speech about how transgender people deserve the same love and opportunities as everyone else. That could have made the story feel progressive, had Lawrence not promptly followed it by reinforcing harmful superstitions about the supernatural abilities of transgender people.
Perhaps it’s too much to expect more from a movie that thought these cringeworthy lines from Asif were a fitting way to sum up its moral message: “Frankly there wasn’t much difference between Laxmii and me. I would eradicate the fear of ghosts in people. And Laxmii wanted to eradicate the ghost of inequality from society.” It’s so, so terrible.